Cooperation between the seven US Colorado River basin states – Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, California and Wyoming – and Mexico is at “an all-time high,” according to Southern Nevada Water Authority’s (SNWA) Senior Deputy General Manager John Entsminger.
The SNWA is a cooperative agency formed in 1991 to address Southern Nevada's water needs on a regional basis.
Entsminger, who was also part of the commission that wrote the most recent Colorado River Basin treaty update, known as Minute 319, told OOSKAnews that it took several years to get Minute 319 on the books, but now individuals and institutions that had no prior relationship are communicating and working closely together.
The “groundbreaking” update to the 1944 water and boundary treaty between the United States and Mexico was signed by both nations in November 2012. Under the treaty, the United States is required to allow 1.5 million acre feet (about 1.9 billion cubic meters) of Colorado River water to flow across the border.
Minute 319 allows Mexico to store water within US infrastructure networks for use later on. The need for this ability was discovered in 2010, when Northern Mexico suffered a damaging earthquake that destroyed much of its irrigation network, causing much of its Colorado River allocation to flow unused to the Gulf of Mexico.
Soon after the earthquake, the two nations signed Minute 318, which held the same provisions allowing Mexico to store water in the United States. However, this was more of a temporary, humanitarian effort rather than a long-term effort, according to Entsminger.
Therefore, the decision was made to implement Minute 319. “Everyone is very optimistic about moving forward, and the proof will be in the pudding as we move forward with implementation, and hopefully expand beyond the minute’s five years to make it long term,” he said.
The Colorado River basin has been experiencing drought for several years now, making it the most pressing issue in the region, according to Entsminger.
Whether this drought can be attributed to climate change, or just the basin’s natural variability, which historically has been “just as scary as any future climate change predictions,” remains to be seen, he said.
However, climate change and an increase in population due to the constant influx of people into the southwestern United States, requires water managers to take a three-pronged approach to mitigating drought.
SNWA is focused on reducing demand, increasing supply and diversifying sources, and improving network infrastructure, Entsminger said.